How to Read the Bible like Jesus and Paul (Your Seminary Prof Wont Like It)

Monday, May 29, 2017

In seminary one learns to interpret Scripture in order to best arrive at the authorial intent. This is known as exegesis. So we look at all the evidence, including cultural background, understanding the original languages, and so on, to arrive at what Isaiah or Moses or Paul meant. We are taught to avoid what is called "eisegesis" which is where you read your own values and agendas into the text.

As Richard Hays and many other scholars have noted however, this is not what Paul or Jesus are doing when they interpret the Hebrew Scriptures. This conclusion is frankly inescapable. Both Jesus and Paul frequently interpret Scripture in ways that so obviously override the clear intent of the original author that it is impossible to imagine this is accidental.

The question then is, what is driving their interpretation? How would we evaluate whether it is a "good" or "right" interpretation if they are not trying to follow authorial intent? If we wanted to read the same way they do, how would we similarly evaluate whether we are arriving at a good or right interpretation?

This is the kind of question that gets scholars like Richard Longenecker confused. He recognizes that Paul is doing this, but suggests that we cannot do it ourselves. In part, his argument is that Paul has a sort of apostolic "free pass" to do whatever he wants when he reads the Bible, but we do not. A second part is that Longenecker sees that this type of reading was regarded as compelling at the time, but he claims it would not be compelling to people in our time. 

I'd like to propose that the problem is that scholars like Longenecker don't really get what Jesus and Paul are doing, and so the interpretive methods of Jesus and Paul just seem -- to use the term famously employed by E.P. Sanders -- "weird." It appears to be a sort of random just-make-it-up-as-you-go-along kind of approach. Understandably, he does not want us to read like that. Nor do I. But again I think the problem is not that what Jesus and Paul are doing is actually random, but that it looks that way to Longenecker.

Richard Hays argues against Longenecker that we should adopt this "creative" reading of Paul and Jesus. The problem is that Hays does not really ever identify what they are doing, other than that it is "imaginative" and "creative," which sounds great, but does not provide us with the means to follow them in this. Even if we are thinking of this as a form of art (as the terms "imaginative" and "creative" imply), as any practicing artist can tell you, art is not random. You need to understand what you are trying to accomplish, and how you will use your medium to achieve that.

To get to this, I find the work of James Dunn helpful. Dunn identifies the baseline interpretive approach (i.e. the hermeneutic) of Jesus as interpreting so as to lead us deeper into love. I think it can be argued that this telos (aim) of love is equally the baseline hermeneutic of Paul as well. 

So how does this love-telos work into Jesus and Paul's approach to interpreting Scripture? What we can observe is that they both read Scripture so that the result will be that the way it is interpreted leads us into more compassion, more goodness, more reflection, more mercy. At times this leads them to take an idea in a new direction, and at other times this leads them to take it in the opposite direction of the original author. Sometimes it even seems that they take it in a direction that appears to completely ignore what the original author had in mind. 

To the question of "Is this what was originally intended when this was written?" their answer would be "Who cares?" (that is, this was not something they were focused on at all, contrary to those doing exegesis today, hence their indignant confusion at the question). Instead, they are asking "If we did this, would it result in abundant life? Would doing this lead to goodness and restoration? Will this lead to compassion and justice and wholeness in my life and the lives of others?" If the answer to these questions is "Yes!" then that is what makes the interpretation right. Here right interpretation and right-eousness become synonymous. It is however not exegesis. It requires, as Hays says, creativity and imagination because we need to know how to understand and build upon something, taking it higher. For that we need to know what the aim is (the aim is love) and we need to know how to take things a step further in that direction. 

This is something that needs to be evaluated in conversation, and in lived community. I say here "lived community" because it is not simply theoretical, but practical. The question is, "when we walk this out, can we observe that this leads to love and flourishing? Or does this in fact lead to harm?" We can only observe that by living it out in relationship, not simply as an abstract theory. That goes for how we interpret the words of Jesus and Paul, and it goes for how we evaluate their reading of Scripture as well. 

For example, when Jesus asks, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" and then a bit more broadly asks "Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath, or evil, to save a life or destroy it?” (Mk 3:4) we can see Jesus applying this approach. The question is not so much "What does the command say?" nor is it "What is the tradition of interpretation here?" In this case the answer would have been that unless this was a life-threatening situation (which it was not) one must wait until after the Sabbath to heal. Jesus argued instead that the way we honor this command is to do all the good we can. That is the right interpretation because it leads us to right-eousness which is another way of saying towards good-ness. You might say the way Jesus and Paul read Scripture is to ask "Does this way of interpreting lead to doing good or evil, does it save life or destroy it?"

So with this example of how Jesus used this love-telos approach to interpret Scripture in mind, let's see how we might apply that love-telos approach with how we interpret the teachings of Jesus. I frequently hear people make the argument that since Jesus got mad and used a whip once, therefore we can just ignore all that stuff about nonviolence and love of enemies he taught. If we evaluate this approach using the criteria of the love-telos approach, we would need to ask: does reading in this way serve to challenge me to go deeper into the way of Jesus, or does it simply serve to let me find a way to side-step the hard teachings of Jesus and feel justified in doing so? I'd say that the latter is the case and that this is an example of what Bonhoeffer might have called "cheap discipleship." It's a reading that gets us off cheap, that does not challenge us, does not change us, does not move us towards love.

To ask the question slightly differently, we might ask whether there is a better way to read Jesus besides this "cheap" way? Is there a way to interpret the words of Jesus that will lead me to a more costly following of Jesus and his way? Is there a way to read this that would do a better job at challenging me to move deeper into the way of compassion and forgiveness, and moving me closer to justice and making things right in the world? If so, then that is the right interpretation, or perhaps I should say, it is the righter interpretation. We evaluate the rightness of an interpretation on the fruit it bears. That is not a static process where we find, once and for all, the one right way of reading. Rather it is something that needs to grow and develop, just like a living thing does. So if in practice I find that I need to modulate that righter interpretation a bit in order to make it more loving, then we arrive at an even righter-er interpretation -- each time developing it further, expanding and growing towards love. That's what I see Jesus and Paul doing as they interpret and apply Scripture, and that's how I plan to read them, too. Jesus says, "Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these." That work, my friends, is the work of love. So let's get to work.

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The Crucifixion of the Warrior God and the Myth of Redemptive Violence

Saturday, May 13, 2017

This is part four of a series I have been doing on Greg Boyd’s Crucifixion of the Warrior God. Here are links to the other parts: Part1, Part2, Part3. Greg has also responded to these.

Volume I of Greg’s book lays out the foundation of his “Cruciform Hermeneutic,” and Volume II proposes how to apply that hermeneutic in a four-part “Cruciform Thesis.” The first part of Greg’s four part thesis is the principle of Cruciform Accommodation, which I discussed in my previous post. I noted there that I saw some issues with how Greg is understanding the cross that I did not really unpack there. My aim is to address that in this post now, focusing on the second part of Greg’s thesis, which he terms Redemptive Withdrawal.


The Cross as Punitive Violence

The Principle of Redemptive Withdrawal is grounded in an understanding of the cross where “the Son bore the judgment of the sin we deserved” (768). This reflects a penal substitutionary understanding of the cross, the key term here being “penal,” meaning punishment. I should note that Greg does not like the term penal substitution, and does make a point of stating that he rejects the popular form of this doctrine where “the Father had to vent his wrath against sin in order to embrace sinners” (796), arguing instead that “God’s punishments are always redemptive in intent” (785). In other words, he still holds to an understanding of the atonement rooted in punitive justice (the idea that things are made right through violent punishment), but sees the intent of the violence as restorative (or as Greg calls it, "redemptive"), rather than as retributive.

I'll return to the idea of violence being “restorative” later, but for now let's simply focus on the notion of the cross being understood in terms of punitive justice, and what this understanding looks like when it is applied as the lens to interpret OT passages which view natural disasters, genocide, and cannibalism as acts of God's judgment. Despite having earlier declared such depictions to be “sinful” and false representations of God, using this punitive understanding of the cross Greg now declares that a cruciform reading of these violent accounts does see them as ultimately good and just. For example, speaking of the biblical flood, he states, “this flood reflects a genuine judgment of God. The only thing that conflicts with God’s revelation on the cross is the manner in which this author ascribes the violence in the judgment directly to God” (526).

This focus constitutes the “withdrawal” element in Greg’s principle of Redemptive Withdrawal. Greg affirms that the violent accounts are correctly seen as God’s just judgment for sin, as the texts claim. He only denies the claim of the text that God was directly involved in committing the violence. Instead, he maintains that God simply “withdraws” his protection, allowing other “agents” to commit the violence, thereby enacting God’s judgment for sin. Speaking of the Canaanite genocide he writes,

“God decided, with a grieving heart, to withdraw his protective presence... Reflecting the same Aikido-like strategy that was employed on the cross, God would now use the evil of the Israelite’s disobedient reliance on the sword to punish the evil of the Canaanites wickedness and idolatry” (982).

Note that Greg refers to using other agents (in this case humans) to carry out God’s violent judgment in the form of genocide as “Aikido-like” here. What does he mean by this? Greg clarifies that while Aikido practitioners have the goal “of bringing as little harm to their opponent as possible” this minimizing of harm is apparently not something that God is concerned with. Greg explains, in contrast to these Aikido practitioners, “God is not adverse to allowing evil-doers to suffer the full destructive consequences of their own sin.” He further clarifies “The point of the Aikido analogy is that God himself never needs to actively engage in violence” (769, n6).

At this point one may be wondering how any of this can possibly be seen as congruent with the nonviolent understanding of God that Boyd laid out so carefully as the foundation of his Cruciform Hermeneutic throughout volume I of this work. Greg explains that based on his understanding of the cross as an act of divine punishment, “it becomes evident that not only can a nonviolent God judge sin, but the ‘wrath’ of this nonviolent God against sin is no less severe than it would be if God did engage in violence. It is just that whatever violence is involved... is carried out by created agents” (782).

What we can observe here is that when a cruciform reading is shaped by a punitive understanding of the cross, the result is to affirm the most extreme violence (global flood, genocide) as being just and good judgments. The resulting “nonviolent” God is therefore just as violent as the warrior god. The only substantive difference is that Greg apparently believes that God is absolved from any moral responsibility by not directly committing the violence entailed in these acts of divine judgment. As he puts it, “the distinction between what God does and what he merely allows removes culpability from God” (720, n29).

I disagree. Mob bosses and war lords commonly have people assassinated and slaughtered without directly participating in the killing. We would certainly not consider them innocent. Anticipating this type of objection, Boyd imagines that someone might compare these “indirect” judgments of God to a person unleashing “a rabid pit bull” on someone (902). That person would be responsible for the harm inflicted by the dog, even though they were not personally involved in the attack. Likewise, “if God unleashed violent nations for the purpose of having them afflict another nation, one could argue that he is responsible for the suffering that the violent nation brings about” (902).

Acknowledging that this is a “formidable objection,” Greg offers a four-point response. First, he argues, since sin is a matter of “pushing God away,” God’s withdrawal must be seen as “a decision to give people what they want” (903), and one does not ask to be attacked by the pit bull. The second point Greg makes is “this is what they deserve” (903) so it is a just punishment (think genocide as you read that). Third, God inflicts his violent judgments “in the hope that their suffering will teach them what God’s mercy will not” (904), although in the context of God’s judgment consisting of the “slaughter of entire populations” (983) it’s hard to imagine how that teaching moment is supposed to work exactly when they are all dead. Forth, he argues that “since God’s very being is unsurpassable love, the pain he experiences when people are afflicted, even when they deserve it, is unfathomably greater than the pain experienced by others who love these people, or by the people themselves” (904).

So in sum: (1) You asked for it. (2) You had it coming. (3) This will teach you, and (4) This hurts me more that it hurts you. While this may sound like some people’s fathers, it sounds nothing like the one to whom Jesus prayed “Our Father who art in heaven.” Note, too, that all of these points involve arguing that the violence is justified, and none address whatsoever the issue of moral responsibility.

The analogy of the pit bull is apt because, as Greg notes, the nations in their blood lust often went overboard in their violence, much like a “rabid pit bull” is completely out of control once you “withdraw” your hand from its leash. Far from being absolved from responsibility, I think it is pretty clear that were a parent to unleash a rabid pit bull on a disobedient child, this would be morally exponentially worse than it would be for them to beat the child with their own hand (which is of course also bad). So I must reject this concept of “withdrawal” as a means of avoiding responsibility. It simply does not hold water. God is morally responsible for what God does, whether directly or indirectly, just as we are.

Moreover, I maintain that the picture of God in Christ crucified is not one of withdrawal because of our sin, but just the opposite. It is a picture of "God with us," God in Christ entering into all of our brokenness and darkness and hurt. It is God in Christ “becoming sin” so that we can become “the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). It is God stooping down to us in our depths. As David says, “Even if I make my bed in the depths of hell, you are with me” (Ps 139:8). We should therefore not be talking about “redemptive withdrawal” with Christ as our image of God, indeed with Christ crucified. The cross, understood as an expression of restorative rather than punitive justice, is a picture of redemptive union with humanity in the very depths of our sin and wretchedness. It is God entering into our abandonment like the father finding the prodigal son among the pig slop and embracing him there. At the moment Christ called out “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!” God was in Christ on the cross, and likewise when we most feel abandoned, God is there. As Paul writes,

"I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom 8:38-39)

You've heard it said, “God can’t be where there is sin,” but I say in Christ crucified we see that this is exactly where God is, and where God has always been.


“Redemptive” Violence

Let’s turn to focus on the “redemptive” aspect of Redemptive Withdrawal. To illustrate this, Greg cites Lev 26:16-45. This passage consists of God repeatedly threatening escalations of violence and terror if the Israelites do not repent. Here’s a sample,

“I will bring on you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and sap your strength...
‘If after all this you will not listen to me, I will punish you for your sins seven times over… I will send wild animals against you, and they will rob you of your children, destroy your cattle and make you so few in number that your roads will be deserted.
If in spite of these things you do not accept my correction but continue to be hostile toward me, I will send a plague among you, and you will be given into enemy hands.
If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me... I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over. You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters.” (Lev 26:16-27)

While he does mention certain “aspects of these judgments to reflect the pre-Christian perspective of the author,” mentioning cannibalism specifically as an example, Greg nevertheless declares, “I believe the motivation this passage ascribes to God... is a direct revelation. For what drives the escalating judgment is God’s hope to restore his people” (791).

I do not doubt that this was the ancient author’s motivation behind these threats of horrifying violence. However, we should seriously question the notion that inflicting violent physical harm and emotional trauma is “redemptive” in any way. Greg is certainly correct that these stories reflect the “pre-Christian perspective of the author” in regards to cannibalism, but he is apparently missing that it also reflects the ancient perspective of people who commonly practiced what we would today regard as criminal child abuse, seeing this violence as redemptive. As William Webb has outlined in his study of corporal punishment and the Bible, the Old Testament calls for striking a child with a whip or rod on the back or sides. Because this is where the internal organs are located, this would likely result in internal bleeding as well as welts and bruises. While leaving such marks on a child’s body would be legal grounds for charges of child abuse today, people at the time believed that inflicting such wounds was healing and redemptive. As Proverbs puts it, “Blows and wounds scrub away evil, and beatings purge the inmost being” (Prov 20:30). This reflects the common understanding of people at the time, and here this abusive understanding is being projected onto God unknowingly by this biblical author. They did not know any better. We, however, living in the 21st century, really should.

So what do we do with the violent judgments of God found throughout the Old Testament? We do what Greg proposed in volume I, we repudiate them as incongruent with Christ crucified, “Any conception that characterizes God’s power in terms of coercive control rather than self-sacrificial love must be identified as an all too common anthropomorphic projection onto God” (196). As Greg writes in his reply to me,
“My entire thesis is predicated on the insistence that the violent judgments of God cannot be justified, let alone made to look ‘loving and just’! Indeed, I argue that it is only when we abandon all attempts to justify them that we can see how these violent portraits bear witness to the cross.”
Precisely. We will not find God behind the violent judgments portrayed in the Old Testament. These reflect the image of a punitive warrior god. If we want to find Christ in these passages, we must look for the victims, the scapegoats in these texts. That is where you will find Christ crucified, deeply buried.


Conclusion

What began as a project to interpret Scripture through a cruciform lens is undermined by a punitive understanding of the cross. This is not a Girardian view of the atonement which seeks to unmask sacred violence, rather the principle of Redemptive Withdrawal makes the case for sacred violence. The principle of Redemptive Withdrawal is quite literally a perpetuation of what Walter Wink called the myth of redemptive violence

At the root of all of this is an understanding of the cross based on punitive justice. As we have seen here, this leads to calling horrific violence just and restorative. What is needed is a non-punitive understanding of the cross resulting in a truly nonviolent cruciform hermeneutic. I have attempted to work out such a non-punitive understanding of the cross in my book Healing the Gospel.

In the end, there is simply no room for violence in the economy of God. But I do not need to appeal here to Wink or Girard to make this claim. I can look directly to the work of Greg Boyd, and in fact I can look to this very work, volume I. 

“The indiscriminate love and unconditional nonviolence reflects the essence of who God is, and thus reflects the character of all God does. God can therefore no more act violently than God can lie or deny himself” (226).

“If we understand God completely in light of what happened on the cross... we can only conclude it is contrary to God’s very nature to engage in violence.” (225).
That means that we can look at God's actions and have them model how we should act. 

“On the cross, Jesus fully displayed God’s self-sacrificial, enemy-embracing, nonviolent character, and the church is called and empowered to embody this same character” (205).

To understand God correctly is to understand that God looks like Jesus. If we have seen Jesus, we have seen the Father. Both are equally examples of enemy love.

“Jesus predicates his command to love indiscriminately and to refrain from all violence... on the fact that this alone reflects the character of the Father.” (224-225)
So when we see images of a god who punisheseven if this is done with “redemptive intent”—we must recognize that this is not a cruciform Jesus-shaped understanding of God, and must therefore be repudiated as the false warrior god, a god made in our own image. In the cross we see that God does not overcome evil with evil, God overcomes evil with good.

In conclusion, let me stress that the issues I have laid out here have to do with the specific punitive understanding of the cross that Greg set forth with his principle of Redemptive Withdrawal. As I have outlined here, I see severe problems with that principle and believe it should be abandoned. However, I very much agree with the idea of reading all of Scripture through a cruciform lens.

On a personal note, Greg had wondered in his response to my reviews whether I was upset with him for his criticism of my work which he laid out in chapter 8 of his book. Greg, let me assure you that I am not. On the contrary, I appreciate you pushing me to not stop at repudiation of these violent portraits, but to go further from there, digging deeper to find Christ. I hear you, and I believe your principle of Cruciform Accommodation is a viable approach to doing this, so long as it is disentangled from a punitive understanding of the cross. I hope that what I have said here can be taken constructively, and ultimately serve to strengthen Greg's wider project of reading all of Scripture with cruciform eyes.

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A Theological Review of the Crucifixion of the Warrior God (part 3)

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Must there be skate goats?
This post is part 3 in a series reviewing Greg Boyd’s The Crucifixion of the Warrior God. In Part1 I cited lots of quotes from the book that I liked. In Part2 I respond to Greg's critique of me (which I did not like).

In this post I would like to offer a theological and ethical review of the central argument of The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, noting some problems I see and proposing possible solutions to them. I’ll begin with a broad overview of the argument in the book. The first 10 chapters of volume I set up the problem which, simply put, is that genocide and Jesus don’t mix. Boyd thus proposes reading Scripture through the lens of Christ crucified, understood in terms of self-sacrificing nonviolent enemy-love. The last two chapters of volume I present Boyd’s proposed solution, a “Cruciform Hermeneutic” which seeks to show how we can find the love of Jesus in these OT portraits of God’s violence. This is then further developed in the first two chapters of volume II (ch 13 & 14).

Boyd admits that these OT texts—as the biblical author intended them to be understood, and insofar as what the texts actually say and promote—do, in fact, present a “revolting” portrait of an enemy-hating violent “warrior” God, and are used to justify horrific violence being committed in God’s name. Examples given of this divine violence found in the OT include genocide, cannibalism, and public gang rape. Citing these disturbing examples, Boyd proposes that in the very ugliness of such passages we can see Christ’s beauty, just as we see this in the ugliness of the cross. For example, he cites the prophet Nathan’s decree of God’s punishment of king David (2 Sam 12:11), noting that this divine punishment consists of the “public raping of a multitude of unfortunate women” (718). Boyd first proposes that, in light of the cross, we know that God is in fact “outraged” by this, and further declares that this passage of Scripture reflects the “twisted and culturally conditioned heart of the biblical author” (719), which is clearly a “sub-Christlike portrait” (720). However, he continues, when read through “the lens of the cross” we can discern how this story of divine-decreed rape “bears witness to the same sin-bearing faithfulness that God displayed on the cross” (720).

The problem with this, of course, is that it does not. This is categorically not a parallel to the cross, but its polar opposite. This is something that Boyd acknowledges as he develops this in volume 2, stating that these violent OT passages present God as “a perpetrator of violence” whereas on the cross we see God as “a victim of violence on Calvary” (642). So despite his earlier claim in volume I that “we discern him in these literary crucifixes in the exact same way we discern him in the historical crucifixion” (511, emphasis added), he acknowledges here in volume II that these are in fact not parallels, but, rather obviously, complete opposites.

Behind all this appears to be a fundamental misunderstanding of how the cross functions as an expression of non-violent enemy-love. Properly understood, the cross is about seeing God in Jesus as the innocent victim of violence. In contrast, these OT depictions present God as the alleged perpetrator of violence. While both are indeed ugly, they are absolutely and in no way parallel. For instance, the above example of God’s punishment of David’s sin is clearly not a story of God “bearing sin” at all, but of God allegedly decreeing the sin of rape, portrayed as just punishment. Simply put: Seeing God in Jesus as the victim of religious and political violence, and seeing God in the Old Testament as the perpetrator of that violence are not parallels, they are polar opposites.

As the Gospels stress, Jesus on the cross is falsely accused of sin, not by God but by the religious and political powers. Through the cross, as Paul says, those powers are thus exposed as unjust, including unveiling their violence as unjust. This represents a Girardian reading of the cross, and in this same section of his book Boyd continues on to favorably reference Girard, affirming this understanding of the atonement (696-697). He quotes Walter Wink who states,

“The violence of Scripture, so embarrassing to us today, became the means by which the sacred violence was revealed for what it is: a lie perpetrated against victims in the name of a God who, through violence, was working to expose violence for what it is and to reveal the divine nature as nonviolent.” (697)

Read out of context one can see how the above quote does sound a lot like what Boyd is proposing. However, Wink is not claiming, as Boyd is, that these violent OT depictions of God as the perpetrator of gang rape, cannibalism, and genocide are in themselves “a testament to God’s covenantal faithfulness and his self-sacrificial, sin-bearing nature” (689) either on the “surface” or with a “deeper” reading. In contrast to Boyd’s going “deeper,” Wink (following Raymund Schwager and Girard) instead proposes a reading that I will describe as looking wider, understanding these violent passages in the larger context of the whole story of the Bible which culminates in Jesus. I therefore wish to propose that we can find a way in Wink, Schwager, and Girard’s looking wider to see how even these dark passages can, when read through the lens of Christ, play a vital and revelatory part in the wider context of the entire canon of Scripture, leading us to Christ. Allow me to unpack this a bit...

Throughout the multivocal Old Testament we encounter many conflicting and contradictory voices, each claiming to speak for God. Many, as we have seen, claim that God commands horrific violence. However we also find minority voices within that same Hebrew canon which give voice to the victim of violence. As Wink says, the OT can be thus understood as “a long and laborious exodus out of the world of violence and sacred projections, an exodus plagued with many reversals and falling short of its goal” (Engaging the Powers, 146). As Girard asserts, it is not until Jesus that the scapegoating mechanism is fully revealed and exposed. We can thus look back from Jesus and see these violent passages, which project human violence onto God, serving now with opened eyes to mirror our own proclivity to make violence sacred. These disturbing passages therefore stand as a record of how religious people like you and me can use God to justify our hate and violence.

If we look only at a particular passage of Scripture in isolation, portraying God as violent, it is simply not true that it shows us Christ’s self-sacrificial love. If you dig deep here it becomes no less ugly. In such passages we see our sin mirrored, and specifically we see the sin of religiously justified violence mirrored before us. This is revelatory when read in this way in the light of Christ, and I stress that it is not what the original authors intended. We can thus, as Boyd proposes, see here a divine revelatory intent in that, when we read these passages in light of Christ, we can now see them exposed as sinful projections. The original authors of course, themselves, under the grip of the lie of redemptive violence, intended these judgments to be seen as good and right. Through the perspective of the cross we now can see that they instead reflect the sin of religiously justified violence.

These violent passages mark the point on that exodus story when we are still in bondage to the lie that violence will save us. It is the point in the story when we are still blind like Saul. However, when we learn to read wide by beginning with the perspective of Jesus opening our eyes to the lie of redemptive violence, we can then look back and discern all of Scripture chronicling humanity’s messy and often failing struggle to break free of this lie. That of course is not to say that we are today somehow beyond it, nor to say that we as Christians are immune. On the contrary, seeing violence as “good” and “just” still grips us as a society today, particularly in America. Indeed, one could say that more than 80% of white evangelicals are deeply under this spell today. God revealed in Christ crucified, understood from a Girardian frame, unmasks that lie. Our eyes are opened to seeing that the way of Jesus is the way of God and the way of violence and power are not. To truly see this is amazing, revelatory. With opened eyes, these dark passages serve as a permanent reminder documenting the sinfulness and profound hurt that comes through religion, lest we ever think we are immune.

Whether or not Greg will find this approach compelling I cannot say. But while I find significant problems with his particular solution, as I have outlined here, I do see something worth salvaging in his larger project of developing a cruciform hermeneutic, and hope that others may find the solution of looking wider, found in the Girardian perspective of Wink and others, to be a viable means to do this. In other words, my intent is to provide a means to overcome the shortcomings of Boyd’s good proposal, in the hopes of furthering it. I believe that when we learn to look wide through the eyes of Jesus we can indeed see how even the most disturbing parts of Scripture can have a revelatory content that ultimately points us to Christ, just as seeing our own sin exposed drives us to the cross.

I wish I could stop here, but I cannot, because Boyd does not. Volume II continues for another 11 chapters (ch 15-25) presenting an apologetic for God’s violent judgments in the OT as loving and just, seemingly taking a u-turn from the nonviolent course Boyd had been establishing up to this point in the book. You can read that part here.

UPDATE: Greg has responded to this post on his blog. The main substance of his reply focuses on our differing understandings of how the cross functions. Greg seems a bit perplexed and that is probably my fault as I do not really unpack this in the above post here. In the next installment of this series, part4, I deal with this extensively, and hopefully this will serve to clear things up, explaining the difficulties I see in regards to Greg's understanding of the cross, and how this impacts how he then reads violent OT passages with that lens. Since the foundation of Greg's entire hermenutical approach is rooted in the cross, we definitively need to get that understanding right.

Since Greg's reply to me I've been thinking about the principle of Cruciform Accommodation and how these OT texts might be read through the same Girardian frame that the Gospel writers used to understand the crucifixion.

I still don't think it makes sense to draw a parallel between Jesus (as the victim of violence) and Yahweh (being the perpetrator of violence), even if we agree that both are falsely accused. The parallel would be between Yahweh in the OT who is falsely seen as behind the violence, and God the Father in the NT who is also falsely seen as behind the crucifixion (which is how Rome and advocates of PSA would see it). In other words, I think that Greg is right in saying that we can legitimately see Yahweh in the OT as being falsely accused of being the perpetrator, but I don't think this is where we find Christ in the story, at least not if we are reading with a Girardian frame...

Basically we look at who in the story plays the role of the righteous authority, and in the Girardian reading that authority is unmasked as being illegitimate. In the NT the authority that executed Jesus is delegitimized (i.e. the cross was not just) and in the OT the slaughter of the Canaanites was also delegitimized as an unjust judgment. In both we can say that the God figure behind all this is falsely portrayed, and is instead of being with the perpetrators is with the victims of that violence done in the name of justice.

That's where God in heaven is in these stories. However, if we want to find Christ, I'd say we need to ask who the scapegoat is in the story. Who is the victim of violence who is being described as bad and deserving of death? In this story it is obviously the Canaanites who are being scapegoated. Just as we find God in Christ on the cross, so too we find God among all those who are scapegoated.

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